Thea, life tramples death and hope beholds herself in an infinite mirror. Her alleluias echo up and down stairwells, and a chorus swells around and above and below her in harmony: All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all shall be very well.* Amen.
Thea, my older daughter was alarmed when every light went out. Darkness cloaked her, heavy and scratchy. I kindled a fire then, and the gale of light blew off her cloak. New light gave birth to new light and soon both of my daughters were twittering and dancing, delighted. Light of Christ. Light of Christ. Light of Christ. Thanks be to you, Thea. Amen.
A friend of mine recently sent my children a collection of puppets and a doll. The doll is Snow White, and her skirt can be flipped up to reveal an upside-down Queen, poison apple in hand.
It didn't take long for my older daughter to become enamored with the Snow White/Queen doll. Soon she was weaving a play involving the Queen and me--I was to play Jesus.
QUEEN: Jesus, eat this apple! JESUS: (Leaning head forward, moving jaw up and down.) Om nom nom! (Jesus' eyes roll back and he dies in his chair.) QUEEN: Okay, eat this apple again so you're not dead. JESUS: (Eats apple again and smiles.) All better. QUEEN: Now come on, we're going for a walk. Pick up your cross. (Queen and Jesus walk across the room. Jesus buckles under the weight of the invisible cross.) Now put your cross down. (Jesus lays his cross down with a loud grunt.) Lay down. (Jesus scoots the Lincoln Logs out of the way with his foot and lays down.) No, put your arms out like this. (Queen positions Jesus' arms so they're stretched outward.) Now eat the apple so you die on the cross. (Jesus eats the apple and dies.) Wake up! Get up, boy! (Jesus rises.)
So what if the Queen were God? What if she were Jesus' parent, and she intended for him to die, and he obeyed her? Is that the kind of God Christians believe in (setting aside God's assigned gender for a moment)? Is it possible to imagine this Queen as benevolent? Is it possible to imagine God as evil?
What this play suggests to me that perhaps no one is all good or bad--not even God.
This morning my Benedictine brother, Chad-Joseph, is ordained as a transitional deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona at Trinity Cathedral in Phoenix. As I reflect on my brother's call and ministry, I hear the music that God plays through his life, as God played the music of Jesus through Mary. He is a good and faithful servant; he empties his life so God's life might live in him, saying yes to the impossible as Mary did, protecting and up-lifting God's faithful servants without regard for his own image as Joseph did, becoming God's life-giving, light-imparting, nourishing presence in the world as Jesus did. I am one of many blessed witnesses to the working of God through Br. Chad-Joseph's life, because I am one of the many people who has looked at him and beheld God's gentle, undemanding, welcoming presence. On this day when my brother receives the sacrament of Holy Orders, the Magnificat resonates in my heart. John Michael Talbot, my favorite sacred singer from when I was a little girl, offers a Magnificat meditation that honors my brother's response to his call in a beautiful way:
For the last several weeks I've been doing some significant, solitary soul-searching. Being in discernment for the priesthood has raised a thousand questions in me, questions about the deepest longings of my heart and the shadowy motivations that accompany them. I find that when the questions get too big and too hard, writing helps me face them. My novitiate journal and lectio divina journal have been two of my closest companions on this road. They are windows to my heart. What other spiritual practices accompany me on my spiritual path? Which ones accompany me all the way to my center, the place where God's light burns brightly in me?
Dear Miri, A year ago today, you changed the fate of the world by emerging from the darkness of my womb into the bright, bright world. You've joined your daddy and sister and me on the wildest year of our family's life yet. So many things have changed! Let that lesson always be in your heart: things change, and if you keep moving, you'll find yourself in the most extraordinary places with the most extraordinary people doing the most extraordinary things. Your eyes have always sparkled brilliantly--may your spirit always do the same. Your legs and arms have been strong since you were growing inside me--may you always be brave and bold enough to show others what it means to be a graced, living body. Your older sister is bodacious, but you remain engaged and interested in her presence--may you always cultivate curiosity rather than fear, and may you always turn to your sister when there is no one else your size to turn to. Your parents love you with a great, big, bursting love--may you learn to love others the way we love you. Your godmother will always be a gentle listener and confidant for you, just as she has always been your mother's--talk to her often so you can discover what it means to be a person wholly in love with the world. Your daddy would throw himself in danger's path to save the life of another--learn to care as skillfully, boldly, and wholeheartedly as he does. The ladies in your life are readers and writers--befriend words so you can stretch the limits of your world. You have an enormous family circle, one that soars even beyond blood-ties--remember your family and call on them whenever need arises, because we will be there for you, whatever you need. Sacred presence can be found anywhere for those with eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to love--may your eyes and ears and heart always remain open to the presence of Shekhinah. And if you forget everything else, remember this: you have value just because you are, and no power in the heavens or on earth can ever take that from you. I love you, Miriam-bub. Mama Kate
For the last couple of days, I've written about my Benedictine Canon vows. Today I'll explore the vow of obedience. Obedience was always the vow I resisted most when I was discerning the possibility of life as a Roman Catholic nun. The idea that I would ultimately have to submit to an authority outside of myself worried me. To use an example that actually came up in my discernment, if my heart's desire was to be a liturgist and my community/superior told me I had to do something other than prepare liturgy, what would I do? How would I be happy? Obedience, as I understood it, was a stance of submission to the will (and whims) of the other. When I read about Joseph and his many brothers, and the trials Joseph endured while he waited for God to come around, I'm reminded of this stance of submission and I cringe. The psalmist's question, "How long?", is one that could be answered with "Forever." If one found oneself in the wrong community, a life of obedience could be one of misery. What I discovered as I was discerning the possibility of becoming a nun was that I was being obedient to God--I was listening hard, and I was hearing God's voice through my worries. To be obedient to God is to pay attention to one's life. What is it in my life that brings deep, quenching joy? What brings me nerve-wracking restlessness? Paying attention to my life in all its particulars is a vital way in which I listen to God's call for my life. In my novitiate as a Benedictine Canon, I dig through the hardened soil in my heart so I can make room for what God wishes to plant in me. In order to turn that hardened soil, I have to embody a stance not of blind submission, but profound openness--openness to be seen by myself, God, and others in all my facets, just as I am. Masks keep me from perceiving what God wishes for my life and keep the seeds already planted in me from budding; they keep my unique, God-given brilliance from shining in God's marvelous light. To be obedient, in my case, is to notice what life as a Benedictine Canon life is like for me. If I were worried or doubtful or unhappy, obedience would mean paying attention to that worry, doubt, and unhappiness and being willing to seek their source. Being obedient as a Benedictine Canon means being willing to share my joys and fears with my Benedictine siblings, especially my superior. To take counsel with another is an act of utter trust, and it is a way of allowing God to speak through others what I may not yet be able to hear from God through myself. What will I hear as I continue to listen to God in the presence of sacred others? What will spring forth from my heart as I loosen the soil that has been made tough and hard?
Yesterday I began a three-part series of reflections on my Benedictine Canon vows. Today I want to talk about my vow of conversion. Conversion is often associated with joining a new church (which I have done), but that's not what this vow implies. Conversion (conversatio) has to do with a cultivated attitude of turning: turning the soil of one's heart so it remains fertile, and turning perpetually back toward the sacred other in order to engage in dialogue. Conversion implies on-going resistance to one's own closed, hardened heart. Conversion requires ongoing engagement. Conversion can be really tough. Suppose my heart has been hardened by the scars of old wounds. Why would I reopen them by making myself vulnerable to God or my neighbor? Why would I risk an even greater wound? The Benedictine life demands the risk of possible wounding so that one can love God and one's neighbor with abandon. The Benedictine vow of conversion is a vow to risk the cross in order to invite resurrection. In what ways will I meet the cross during my novitiate? In what ways will I be raised up?
I took three vows when I became a Benedictine Canon novice in February: obedience, conversion (conversatio), and stability. I've spent a good deal of time reflecting on each of these recently, and I'd like to spend time with them over the next few days. The strength and power of the vows becomes evident when one considers one's own weaknesses, so I will discuss the vows in light of my own weakness. I want to give consideration to stability today. Let's suppose that the journey through the novitiate became really difficult and I felt like I wanted to give up. One of the things that has been true of me in the past is that, confronted with great difficulty, I sink into my shadow's aching, heavy desire to withdraw. I have burned a number of bridges that way, including some that I wished I could restore later and couldn't. Stability implies that my shadow doesn't get to burn bridges when things become difficult. My vow is to be stable, to stay--to deal with whatever comes my way while maintaining my presence. When I'm healthy, when my heart's soil is well-tilled, I can do this, often utilizing supports that are already in place. St. Benedict knew that in community oriented away from self-interest and toward God and neighbor, much support would be available to the members of the community. My community is exceptionally supportive, even though it's small and we are not cloistered. Still, when things are hard and I'm not well, remaining faithful in the exercise of stability means having the humility to acknowledge that I need help even if I'm not sure I'll get what I need, whether from my community or anyone else. It's one thing to pray, "My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth," when one has lots of tangible help around oneself. It's another to pray it when God's help is perceived to be the only available source of help. At one's darkest moments, the vow of stability implies utter reliance on an uncapturable, untameable God. It's an invitation to fall, trusting that I will be caught, even though I have no safety net of my own devising in place. By taking the vow of stability, I've promised not to withdraw or give up, period. I've promised to see this journey through, no matter where the path takes me--even if it meanders out of the out of the comforts of community and into places of desolation. And if my foot slips from its foothold on the wall of a stark, vertical cliff? Then my vow demands that I must fall back into Spirit's enveloping breath. Will I shed the burden of fear when I fall? Will I fly on the lightness of hope?
On this fortieth day of Easter, Christians celebrate the ascension of Christ. It is a departure. Christ has been hanging around, helping the disciples on their post-crucifixion journey to recognize what this resurrection business means. In the end, though, he ascends so that they might ascend. Ascension Day is a vulnerable day. It's a lonely day. It's a day when Christ's faithful followers don't know whether they're going to make it without being able to lean on their beloved in the way they always have. What are they going to do now? Eventually, they'll stand up, with or without wiping away their tears. They'll get back to their holy work. They'll remember--in a most powerful way--Christ in the breaking of bread. And they'll encounter their beloved by slipping into the leadership to which he was, from the beginning, beckoning them.
I don't normally do evening posts, but I'm not normally blogging on vacation, either. Consider this an extraordinary post, in any sense of "extraordinary" that you wish. Recently I picked up an old journal of mine--one that I finished just before I met my husband. It's a journal that represents one of the most tumultuous periods of my life. As I reflect on the contents of that journal and the period it represents, the power of my own words takes my breath away. My life then, which could so easily be hidden or forgotten now, is recorded by my own hand. Because I took time to speak the words of my heart in those many pages, my experience from that time is memorialized forever. I remember a homily that a Benedictine priest gave once that began, "Words, words, words!" "I'm so sick of words!" Eliza Doolittle declared. Occasionally I wonder if others tire of my words, but tiring though they may be, I write them. And I write them. And I write more of them. Because in my words dwell the power of the Spirit. I am Spirit's instrument when I do this very thing, tap-tap-tapping at my computer or huddling over a journal with one of my precious pens. When I am alone, when I am fearful, when I am angry, when I am frustrated, or when I am elated, when I am ecstatic, when I am grateful, when I am joyful: I write. Writing is the meeting place between my voice and God's, and if I were ever asked to stop--well, I wouldn't stop, regardless of the cost. I cannot be other than the person I am called by God to be. And I am called to be a writer, among many other things. As I discern the fullness of my vocation, especially with regard to the possibility of becoming a Benedictine Episcopal priest, I reflect on my writing vocation. How was it planted? How was it nurtured? What was it like when I turned from it? When did I figure out that writing was not just a thing I sometimes did, but rather an identity-creating activity without which I cannot be wholly myself?
Yesterday I shared my life's spiritual journey with five people who had come together to help me hear what Spirit is saying through me. In my total vulnerability to this group and to God, I could feel the charge of Spirit's power working through me. (I'm not sure I can tell you what Spirit was doing, but clearly she was up to something.) As I discern my call from God, I am doing the hardest work of my life: letting go of my will in order to make room for God's. I know what I've heard so far, but it's not just what I hear that matters. I know what stirs my heart, but perhaps there is something I've yet to uncover that stirs much more deeply within me. What will I hear in the presence of my sacred companions as we journey together?
Tonight I will ritualize the death of a friend of mine from highschool. Ritualizing is proactive creating/shaping of and engaging in ritual. "Following the rubrics" isn't necessary--rubrics are a by-product, not a prerequisite, of ritualizing. I invite you to consider the events or memories in your life that could benefit from the act of ritualizing them. What in your life needs healing? What needs reconciling? What needs forgiving? What needs to be laid to rest?
It feels like a blur. Didn't my family just arrive in the desert yesterday? Didn't we just experience the St. Brigid Thursday night community for the first time? Didn't each of my tiny daughters receive their first communion a moment ago from the hands of those gathered in Heidi Chapel? St. Brigid, the small gathering of young adults and families from ASU Episcopal Campus Ministry and St. Augustine's Church, passed away last night. We built an altar of stones as a sacred tribute, and my not-quite-one-year-old splashed the bowl of water that bore the stones with which we built it. I have watched my daughters engage the sacramental life in this community. My baby, who was barely four months old when we first visited, took her first steps in front of the St. Brigid community last night, blazing a sacred trail around the room and climbing into the lap of our priest during the eucharistic prayer as unabashed concelebrant. Both of my daughters have inspired the breaking open of the word. Both of my daughters have broken the bread. Both of my daughters have shared gestures, looks, and wise words to give a roomful of adults pause. Both of my daughters have done what the older children did before them. Her precise words escape me, but my toddler said last night, during the breaking of bread, "Ooh, bread! It's so good!" And later, as she ate, she said, "Oh, my God!" And I said, "Oh, your God." I don't know what their liturgical formation will look like anymore beyond Sunday Mass, but I know that my daughters have walked and danced with the wild Spirit over these last eight months, and they have been met with wings of welcome and delight. Their lives will never be the same. And neither will mine. But the past isn't the end of the story--it marks the beginning of a new story. What will come next? How will I, their mother and on-hand liturgist, continue what the Spirit has inspired? Where does the story turn next?
After a difficult day, all I want to do is collapse. It's been a difficult month, and collapsing hasn't been an option--not with my well-being at stake. The only thing that could get me out of my month-long difficult was standing up to face God. So I faced God yesterday. I shed the last of my inhibitions and yelled at her. I demanded that she listen and respond. And she did. I realized two things last night: 1) my relationship with God is vivacious, and 2) my heart is made of stronger stuff than I've imagined (which is what she was waiting for me to see, of course). What wondrous love is this, that I would dare to trust her enough to get raging mad at her when she wasn't holding up her end of our relationship. What wondrous love is this, that she would wait in my shadow, enduring my rage, till I could see the light in me that she's seen all along.
I began reading Sr. Joan Chittister's Following the Path yesterday, and in it I found a helpful distinction between pursuing delight and pursuing happiness. Sr. Joan says we need both if we are to remain faithful to the path we are called to, but they each have to be held in balance with one another. To pursue delight is to do something that breaks the routine of one's day and offers a sweet burst of enjoyment. One's delight is something other than what one does all the day long. If one did this delightful thing all the day long, it would quickly become mundane, boring, and unfulfilling. To pursue happiness, on the other hand, is to embrace that which has been calling out to us since we were children. It's to dig deep into ourselves, to notice what draws us like a magnet, and to allow ourselves to be drawn into that whole-heartedly. Whatever that is may be hard or even seem impossible, but after we set aside what everyone--self included--thinks we ought (or ought not) to do, it's that thing that our heart most deeply and completely yearns for.
As I prepare to share my spiritual autobiography with my discernment committee for the priesthood, I find myself nodding at what Sr. Joan writes. My heart has been drawing me toward priesthood my whole life, even though my faith tradition always told me that priesthood for women was out of the question. It's now, in a tradition that can whole-heartedly embrace my call, that I can whole-heartedly embrace my call. And you know that feeling you get when a great mystery is suddenly revealed? The goosebumps? The thrill of wonder and recognition? That's how recognizing and naming my call to priesthood manifests.
What more will I discover about my call as I continue to attend to the yearnings of my heart?
I didn't expect to have this conversation with my toddler daughter this morning: Toddler: "Mommy, what's wrong?" Me: "Remember when Else and Anna's mommy and daddy died on the boat and Else and Anna were sad? My friend died. Mommy's sad." This was after I found out while perusing Facebook that a highschool friend died unexpectedly last night. She was married and a mom of two young boys. I am crushed, even though I haven't seen her face-to-face in years. I am devastated, and she's not even my family. My heart aches for her husband and sons. And that's all I can say that makes any bit of sense. I see Easter all around, but Good Friday has returned with a mighty, forceful blow, knocking the wind out of me and all the people I know who knew her.
I invite you to join me in remembering Stephanie and her family in your prayers.
Meanwhile, I'll sing something we sang together in our highschool Women's Chorus: The Lord bless you and keep you The Lord make his face to shine upon you and give you peace and be gracious to you The Lord be gracious unto you Amen